Written by Mike Laws
Wizards of whiff
In which the Rangers get all the Big Strikeouts and most of the Big Hits, too
Texas 8, Orioles 5
Too little, too late, Matt Wieters.
Starting with the good news — that is, the 1 in his 1 for 5 with four strikeouts — the Oriole catcher did shoot a two-run homer the opposite way, into the stands in Oriole Park’s right-center field, off southpaw Derek Holland. (There! That oughta keep the fires stoked over in the “Wieters should stop switch-hitting and only ever hit right-handed” camp.) The bad news was that this only altered the scoreline from 8-3, Rangers, to 8-5, and though Holland wouldn’t make it out of the inning — the seventh, at this point — Wieters and the Birds had by then missed many, many chances to force the Texas starter from the ballgame well before that late frame.
Sadly, a lot of these missed opportunities seemed to involve Wieters. Well, and also Chris Davis (0 for 4, with a walk and four K’s of his own), for whom this was probably a personal-worst night at the dish for all of 2013 thus far. In the Oriole half of the first, following consecutive one-out singles from Manny Machado and Adam Jones, Holland fanned both men, back to back, digging deep into his arsenal of tantalizing off-speed crap to cap the pair of deep-count at-bats. That’s OK — hey, better to waste opportunities than never get opportunities in the first place, right? Get ’em next time, fellas! Well, except: no. In the Baltimore third, basically a carbon copy of the first (except that Nick Markakis had led off with a single, which Machado followed with another of his own, and Jones infield-flied out), Holland again got both Davis and Wieters, again swinging, again at the end of extended ABs.
Big Chris would do a little better in the fourth, in which the Orioles got the help they needed, in lieu of the Big Base Hit, to plate their first runs. Down 2-0 entering the inning, J.J. Hardy led off with a four-pitch walk. Nate McLouth then guessed right on a 1-0 fastball, torqueing it down the right-field line and high off the out-of-town scoreboard — he’d hit the ball so hard, in fact, that Leonys Martin’s relay beat him to the bag at second, where replays confirmed that so had Elvis Andrus’s tag, but Nate the Skate was called safe. That would go as the first lucky break of the frame, the second coming just moments later, when Brian Roberts’s swinging bunt to first got horribly botched by Mitch Moreland (whose name, when said quickly, always sounds like a Game of Thrones locale), with Moreland’s throw to the covering Holland wrong-footing the pitcher, well behind him; Holland couldn’t get his bare hand onto it, and the ball skipped on past to the wall beyond the bag, meaning that now both Hardy and McLouth had scored and Roberts stood on second, still with nobody down. After which Alexi Casilla laid down a fine sacrifice bunt, but Markakis grounded into the drawn-in infield, putting everything onto young Machado’s shoulders; could he really get his third base hit in as many at-bats? He could, smacking a hanging Holland slider into the hole just beyond Andrus’s range to his right to bring Roberts on home. 3-2, O’s. And Jones kept things alive, getting his hands inside a tough jamming fastball and punching it into center, and Davis fell into another 0-2 hole but this time flatly refused to chase any of that out-pitch junk, and walked, bringing Wieters, the ninth batsman Holland had to face in the fourth, to the plate. But with a chance to do some real damage in what was already a three-run offensive outburst, Wieters … went down swinging for the third straight time, chasing a fastball at around eye-level to complete the inning-ending strikeout and let Holland off the hook. He’d swung at maybe one pitch in the zone.
Of course, by that point Wieters had made a positive contribution to the affair, nabbing Ian Kinsler trying to swipe second to end the third, in which Kinsler had just stroked a two-out RBI single to left to stake the Rangers to a 1-0 lead. It had taken a perfect throw; such had been Kinsler’s lead/jump off Oriole starter Scott Feldman.
Why am I stressing that this was such a huge play? Well, because someone had to find a way to get Kinsler out …
But first things first. Feldman had started the ballgame strong but looked progressively more hittable as it went along — he backed up a three-hitter first and second with the one-run third, then a fourth in which Nelson Cruz singled with one away and Adrian Beltre practically leapt out of his spikes to connect on a double to deep left-center, and then Feldman hit A.J. Pierzynski with a pitch the Ranger catcher hadn’t even so much as pretended to be trying to get away from. Ugh. After that Moreland fisted a single into shallow center — just the latest in a never-ending parade of little Texas Leaguers on the night (appropriately enough, I guess), this one scoring the Rangers’ second run of the evening and leaving the bases loaded for Andrus, who slapped a hard grounder right at Hardy, who knocked the ball down and had just enough time to recover and flip to Casilla, who in turn had just enough time to get the relay off before being taken out on a slide, with Davis doing a nice stretch-and-pick job over at first, completing the inning-ending double play.
So it was a nice escape job from Feldman, who after the O’s had taken the lead bounced back with a lightning-fast fifth — but that would prove the calm that precedes the gathering storm. The Oriole starter wouldn’t make it out of the sixth, which saw the visitors again bleeding him to death with bloop after bloop (and, to be fair, a Pierzynski double inside-outed way down into the left-field corner). That drove in the game-tying run; Andrus, redeeming himself, untied it with an RBI single, at which point it was curtains for Feldman. Enter Troy Patton, up to this point so good at stranding inherited runners — who became the victim of some hard luck when the other Beltre (center fielder Engel Beltre, that is) dunked a single out over Casilla and in front of the onrushing Markakis, making it now 5-3, Texas. Patton got Martin to bounce into a 3-2 fielder’s choice (and even that was somewhat unlucky, Martin’s bounder being hit too far wide of first for Davis to take a shot at a difficult 3-6-1 twin killing), and found himself up 0-2 against Kinsler … but the Ranger second baseman refused to cave to the southpaw, wound up working the count even, then ripped a double way out to the warning track in left, unloading the bases. 8-3.
And pretty much the ballgame, pace the Wieters homer in the seventh. Holland, unpunished (or at least not thoroughly punished) through the early going, remained in the game long enough to record six consecutive outs over the fifth and sixth, keeping himself in line for the win. Ross Wolf and Joakim Soria and eventually Joe Nathan followed; none of them yielded so much as a base hit. And when Nathan fanned Davis and Wieters, back to back, before grounding Hardy out to short to put an end to it all, you’d have to say it was kind of a perfect encapsulation of the opener, though of course not in a way anyone who loves the Orioles is going to much appreciate …
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